‘It can actually make you infertile’: Reproductive bodylore and vernacular knowledge about contraception

Newton, Victoria Louise (2024). ‘It can actually make you infertile’: Reproductive bodylore and vernacular knowledge about contraception. In: Contemporary Legend, 2(4).

URL: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/cl/...


Folkloristic research can provide new insights into sensitive subjects such as reproductive and sexual health. In this paper I discuss the role of storytelling in women’s contraceptive choices. I argue that applied health and folklore research is a valuable area of interdisciplinary study and report on a collaborative project between folklore and public health: Reproductive Bodylore: The role of vernacular knowledge on women’s contraceptive decision-making. The project comprised 3 work packages: a qualitative secondary analysis, participatory research with volunteer researchers, and a public engagement exhibition.
The paper frames contraceptive narratives in terms of vernacular knowledge. Vernacular knowledge is the unofficial, informal and everyday culture of a group. Women seeking contraceptive advice frequently use female friendship and kinship networks as a way of obtaining knowledge about specific methods. I identify key themes which explore attitudes towards risk and responsible use. Across all datasets, ‘fertility fears’ encapsulates participant’s concern that exercising reproductive control could have some detrimental effect on future fertility. The experiential and narrative accounts of contraceptive use were valued within the wider context of the ‘contraceptive network’ for decision-making. Some narratives evoked fears about contraception being polluting to the body in some way. Finally, the ‘contraceptive burden’ was viewed as a gendered tension between reproductive autonomy and contraception as a shared responsibility. I conclude with a call to make greater links between applied health research and folklore, as well as a more concentrated focus on the potential real-world impact of folkloric research.

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